Santa Croce Archives

October 10, 2007

The churches of Santa Croce

CatenaThere are 10 churches in this sestiere which was named for an 8th century church that was demolished in the 19th century; a granite column and piece of that church’s wall can be found today in the Papadopoli Gardens.

San Giacomo dall’Orio is my favorite campo in Venice, and I love its church a lot, both inside and out. It looks so ancient from the outside but is surprisingly elegant inside with a nice collection of art. San Zan Degola is a sweet little church with some frescoes that might be the oldest works of art in the city; formerly Catholic, this church has recently switched to Russian Orthodox.

Santa Maria Mater Domini is one of my very favorites – a small and very charming church with some gorgeous paintings including the one on the right (The Vision of Santa Christina) by the mysterious Venetian painter Vincenzo Catena. More about him later.

Chorus Pass churches are San Giacomo dall'Orio and San Stae.

Churches in Santa Croce

San Giacomo dall’Orio
San Nicolo da Tolentino (Tolentini)
San Simeon Grande (San Simeon Profeta)
San Simeon Piccolo (Ss.Simeone e Giuda)
San Stae (Sant'Eustachio)
San Zan Degola (San Giovanni Decollato)
Sant'Andrea della Zirada
Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Mater Domini
Santissimo Nome di Gesu (SS. Nome di Gesu)

At the top of my wish list for this sestiere is San Simeon Piccolo (the church with the big green dome across from the train station). It was deconsecrated and closed for years, only opening for occasional concerts, but it’s now reopened and reactivated as a church, and it's the only church in Venice that celebrates the traditional Latin Mass.

Continue reading "The churches of Santa Croce" »

February 12, 2008

San Giacomo dall' Orio


An ancient and strangely charming church with much to see, including fossils! This is one of my very favorites; I love the church but I also love the campo, having stayed in a great apartment here on two of my trips. My favorite restaurant (La Zucca) is in this neighborhood along with my favorite wine bar (Al Prosecco), and I’ve spent many happy hours sitting in the campo drinking prosecco and watching the neighborhood while looking at the back of this great old church.


One of the oldest churches in Venice, dating back to the 10th century, this church is interesting in that the different styles of so many centuries have been combined so harmoniously. The church was rebuilt in 1225 and has been expanded and renovated several times since then. So in one place, you can see elements of the major periods of Venetian style from Byzantine to Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque.

The church is dedicated to St. James (San Giacomo), while the “dall’Orio” part of the name is a Venetian dialect phrase whose meaning is up for grabs. It might refer to a bay laurel tree (lauro) that used to be in the campo or to “Luprio” which is what this lagoon settlement was called before the creation of the Republic. Either way, it’s a reference to the location of the church and not to the saint himself.

The church and its art

sgdoI love the way this church looks from the outside. The back of the church faces into the campo of the same name, one of the nicest campos in Venice with a few trees and park benches, and real Venetians with their kids and dogs. There’s very little ornamentation on the outside of the church – it’s just stone, and it looks so….old. The apses look like huge stone barrels, all merged together, in various weather-beaten colors. The entrance to the church faces a canal, and there’s an outdoor pizzeria (Il Refolo) on the canal right by the façade. You get a sense of how a parish church like this one is such an integral part of a neighborhood. The 800-year old campanile is a nice stocky brick one with great bells that ring on a zany and inexplicable schedule that I’ve yet to figure out.

San Giacomo dall' Orio

While the church looks a bit rambling from the outside, the interior is surprisingly elegant with lots of art to see. But more than the art, it’s the quirky details of this church that are intriguing, like the floor. It’s red and white marble in a checkerboard pattern common to a number of Venetian churches, but this one has fossils embedded in it. Big fossils that look like huge swirly crustaceans – it’s great fun to walk around and find them!

And then there’s the gothic wooden ceiling (14th c). Many Venetian wood craftsmen began their careers as ship builders, and several churches in Venice have an ornately constructed wooden ceiling that looks like the inverted hull of a boat. Other churches with these ship’s keel ceilings include Santo Stefano and San Polo, among others, but this is one of the finest. There are also some nice carved wooden beams and cornices. There’s just something so beautiful about the contrast of wood and stone – too much marble can make a church seem coldly mausoleum-like, but wood warms a place right up.


And finally, the green column. The church has a number of stone columns, but only one made of green marble. It was part of the loot that the Venetians brought home from the raid on Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204); before that, the folks in Constantinople may have stolen it from an ancient Greek or Roman temple. It’s certainly beautiful – Ruskin was fascinated by it and said that it was more jewel than stone, and poet Gabrielle D’Annunzio said, “It is like the fossilized condensation of a great green forest.” Fossils again! I’d love to know the story of how this one amazing column ended up in this rather homely parish church instead of in Basilica di San Marco with all the other plundered treasures that the Venetians hauled home.

San Giacomo dall' Orio

This church has a large collection of art that spans the many centuries since its creation. The Renaissance is well-represented with works by Veronese and Lorenzo Lotto (his Virgin and Child with Saints is above the high altar). My favorites include some of the older works, like the 13th c. painted wooden crucifix by Paolo Veneziano, and various Byzantine works scattered around, including a nice marble Madonna in a niche on the wall.

More photos of the outside of the church are here.

To visit this church:

San Giacomo dall’Orio is one of the Chorus Pass churches, so you can count on finding it open from 10-5 on Monday through Saturday.


Continue reading "San Giacomo dall' Orio" »

February 13, 2008

Fossils in the floor

San Canciano

Yesterday I wrote about finding fossils in the floor of San Giacomo dall’ Orio.
That was the first church where I saw one and I’ve since spotted them in several other churches. I don’t always remember to look for them (sometimes I get distracted by the art and architecture!) but when I do remember, I almost always find at least one. They are usually embedded in the red marble and look like big swirly shrimp. They are so fascinating to me.

In December, I found fossils in San Canciano (the one in the photo is from that church), Santa Maria Formosa, San Francesco della Vigna, and even in the Salute. I wonder if marble with a fossil in it was more valuable, back in the days when they were building these churches?

There’s just something so satisfying about finding them. It’s the same feeling I’d get as a kid when we’d look for four-leaf clovers out in the yard - it feels lucky! And yes, I realize that I probably look like a dork walking around a magnificent church staring at the floor. :)

Another part of it is that these churches all seem so ancient and holy to me, and they make me think about time (and long passages of time), and then the fossils connect it all back even further to pre-history.

Of course, “ancient” is relative….everything in Venice seems so old to me but I’m coming from the American perspective. Here in the USA, a church or building that’s 100 years old is “historic” while a church the same age in Italy would be considered “modern.” But the fossils are ancient no matter what.

Another thing I look for in every church is a Byzantine icon of the Madonna. Almost every church in Venice has at least one of these. Some of them are famous with legends about miracles and such, but some are just regular old beautiful icons. Even the more “modern" baroque churches usually have an icon somewhere, probably carried over from previous and older incarnations of the church itself. Some of them sit in big fancy altars while others are tucked away in the sacristy, but they are usually around somewhere. They are easier to find than the fossils!

February 23, 2008

Santa Maria Mater Domini

Santa Maria Mater Domini

This lovely Early Renaissance church is another one of my favorites. It’s small and elegant and feels like a place that’s been much loved by many generations of grandmothers, plus it has one of my very favorite paintings in Venice.

Santa Maria Mater Domini is located close to the campo of the same name, but the church isn’t visible from the campo itself. This part of Venice is very densely built, and it would be easy to walk by the church without even noticing it if you weren’t looking up. You can see the campanile from the middle of the campo, but you have to go down a narrow calle to see the façade and entrance to the church. The campo contains some of the oldest remaining Byzantine buildings in the city – look for the windows and the Byzantine reliefs embedded in the brickwork of the houses in the campo.

Santa Maria Mater Domini

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March 7, 2008

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

A church that’s now part of Venice’s prison, this one’s got an interesting history with not one but two miracle-working Madonna legends.

In the 1400’s, this was a remote and poor fishing neighborhood on the western shore of Venice and then an old hermit and the locals began seeing the Madonna and Child walking on the water of the canals. This happened often enough that a Franciscan nun named Caterina asked the Senate for permission to build a church here in honor of the Virgin’s miraculous visitations. The first church (built in 1497) was small and made of wood, and then someone gave the church a miracle-working Madonna icon brought to Venice from Greece, and the icon was another attraction that drew people to this area and this church.

So the miracles continued and donations poured in, and the church we see today was built in 1503-1514 along with a convent. Interesting that this all happened shortly after the Miracoli was built under similar circumstances in another part of town. Tuilio Lombardo might have been the architect of this church too, which was modeled on a church of the same name in Rome.

The convent grew from 12 nuns to hundreds, many of them noblewomen from wealthy Venetian families. It became an important religious center and the church was decorated with some great art, but the convent was not without scandal. At some point in the 1500’s the prioress had an affair with a priest from San Stae; they were caught and she was banished to Cyprus (but what happened to the priest?!).

Continue reading "Santa Maria Maggiore" »

March 24, 2008

San Zan Degola (San Giovanni Decollato)


San Zan Degola is located in a small campo of the same name, and this is one of those magical places in Venice where you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. There are no other tourists, no glass or mask shops, no indication whatsoever that you are in modern times. And the church itself is charming and wonderful with rediscovered frescoes that might be the oldest works of art in the city.

The church dates back to the 8th, 9th, or 10th century (sources vary). It’s possible that it was originally an oratory that became a parish church in 1007. Regardless, it’s definitely one of the oldest churches in Venice, and it’s one that hasn’t changed much despite various restorations over the centuries. In 1994, the church was restored and reopened after having been closed for over two decades, and it’s now the church for Venice’s Russian Orthodox community.

San Zan Degola

The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist aka St. John the Beheaded (San Giovanni Decollato) which morphs into San Zan Degola in Venetian dialect. There’s a curly-haired stone relief of the martyred saint’s head on the outside of the church.

This very small and very sweet church is Veneto-Byzantine in style with a plain brick façade and a nice campanile in the back. The interior is simple with Greek marble columns with 11th c. Byzantine capitals and a gothic wooden ship’s keel ceiling.

The highlights of this church are the ancient frescoes that were unearthed during restoration. It’s unusual for frescoes to survive the damp and salt air of Venice, so seeing these is very cool. There’s an image of Saint Helena, an Annunciation, and a particularly nice image of Archangel Michael standing on a dragon.

Continue reading "San Zan Degola (San Giovanni Decollato)" »

June 25, 2008

San Stae

San Stae facadeThis isn’t one of my favorite churches in Venice by any stretch, but one of my best and most memorable church VISITS was to this one because of the big surprise I found inside when I went for the first time. One of the few churches on the Grand Canal, this is the place to come for 18th century Venetian painting and if you are lucky (like me), some modern art too.

This church is dedicated to San Eustachio (St. Eustace) who, in the quirky world of the Venetian dialect, morphed into San Stae. San Eustachio was a second century Roman general who was out hunting one day and saw a vision of Christ in between a stag’s antlers, so he converted to Christianity, endured a bunch of Job-like trials, and was eventually martyred.

The church often hosts temporary art exhibits and concerts (it’s known for great acoustics) and is also one of the exhibition sites for the Biennale, Venice’s famous biannual extravaganza of contemporary art from around the globe.

angel on campanile (San Stae)

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August 29, 2008

I Tolentini (San Nicolo da Tolentino)


There are a bunch of churches in Venice that look so beautiful from the side or back but not so hot from the front, and this is one of them. Jan Morris (The World of Venice) wrote, “The back of San Nicolo da Tolentino looks like an Edwardian battleship, with barbettes, bulwarks, flying bridges, and catwalks” so in December, I went to check and took the photo above. I have no clue what she’s talking about, maybe because I’ve never seen an Edwardian battleship, but I think the church is lovely from this angle with that pinkish glow and nice campanile. The façade is a different story.

After the Sack of Rome in 1527, many refugees fled to the safety of Venice including the Theatine Order (which included a future saint and a future pope). They settled in an oratory and then later in the century, built this church (1591-1602).

Continue reading "I Tolentini (San Nicolo da Tolentino)" »

August 3, 2010

San Simeon Piccolo


This is the first church in Venice that many visitors see because of its location across from the train station and also because there’s just no way to miss that huge green dome.

John Ruskin didn’t mince words about this one:

“One of the ugliest churches in Venice or elsewhere.”

I’m inclined to agree with him except for the fact that I’ve never actually seen this church except in photos; every time I’ve been to Venice, the façade has been covered over with scaffolding. The advertisements seem to change regularly and there was some controversy a few years ago when there was a fashion ad with a naked woman (that one didn’t stay up very long). I was lucky to get the marginally more tasteful kick-boxing ballerina in my photo above. :)

Ruskin’s rant about this church goes on to compare the church’s “black” dome to “an unusual species of gasometer.” At some point after Ruskin saw it, the dome was recovered with copper which turned green, though I doubt Ruskin would have seen this as an improvement. Everyone loves to bash this church – it’s probably legend, but supposedly Napoleon quipped that he’d seen churches without domes but he’d never seen a dome without a church until he saw this one. Pretty funny, whoever said it.

A view from the back, in the fog~


Continue reading "San Simeon Piccolo " »

November 3, 2010

San Giacomo?

Saint for children--San Giacomo dall Orio

Thanks to blog friend Marie for sending this photo to me. She spotted this relief on San Giacomo dall'Orio, on the side of the church closest to Al Prosecco wine bar. It's funny because I've spent so much time in this campo but had never noticed this little saint. Something else I look forward to seeing the next time I'm in Venice. We assume it's San Giacomo but aren't sure. He's charming, whoever he is.

I've written about this church before but thought I'd post a few more photos of it. Each side of this church looks so different, it would be easy to think they aren't all photos of the same church.




Another thing I love about this campo...La Zucca, my favorite restaurant in Venice. The last time I was in Venice, La Zucca was doing two seatings per night, one at 7 and another at 9:30, and while it was easier to get a table for the earlier seating, it was important to book for either one even in the winter time. Great place.

La Zucca

March 28, 2011

Sant' Andrea della Zirada

Sant' Andrea della Zirada

It’s hard to imagine what this part of Venice used to be like. At one time, this was the western-most part of the city, very quiet and undeveloped, and this church and its convent were surrounded by orchards and kitchen gardens. Sant' Andrea della Zirada is a Gothic church so, of course, John Ruskin loved it and he also praised the view:

“Well worth visiting for the sake of the peculiarly sweet and melancholy effect of its little grass-grown campo, opening to the lagoon and the Alps.”

What would Ruskin think today if he saw the view of the highway bridge with cars zipping across and all the modern buildings of Piazzale Roma that surround this little church now? We can no longer see the Alps, instead we see the People Mover!

The real name of this church is Sant'Andrea Apostolo but like many other churches in Venice, it acquired a nickname. “Zirada” means “bend” and refers to the curve of the canal in front of the church. This curve was at one time one of the important milestones of the historic Regatta; boats turned around here at a pole (paleto) in the canal.

The church was founded in 1329 by four Venetian noble-women along with a convent and a hospice for poor widows. The church we see today was built in 1475 and according to reports, still has an elegant barco or singing gallery for the nuns. At one time, the church housed a fine altarpiece with a painting by Veronese of St. Jerome, now in the Accademia. The convent is mentioned a number of times in Mary Laven’s "Virgins of Venice", which recounts various escapades of the noble-born Sant’ Andrea nuns (at one point, the bell tower door was locked by decree after the nuns allegedly climbed to the top and “flaunted” themselves to the neighborhood). The whole complex was suppressed in the early 19th century, and the convent was demolished. Recently the church was the studio of sculptor Gianni Arico.

2015 Update: see a peek inside this church!

And another peek with crazy modern art (thank you Yvonne!).

The lunette above the entrance has two reliefs; the lower one shows The Calling of Apostles Peter and Andrew (14th century) and above is an image of Christ (late Gothic, 15th century).

Sant' Andrea della Zirada

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June 1, 2011

A few of my favorites

There are so many thousands of images of the Madonna all over Venice, both inside churches and museums, and out on the streets in carvings and shrines. Here are a few of my favorites that can be found inside various churches.

This gorgeous and elegant 13th century relief is high up on a wall of the church of San Francesco della Vigna. A marble Veneto-Byzantine relief with traces of gold, it's one of many beautiful works of art in this church.

San Francesco della Vigna

This next one can be found in the church of San Pantalon, in a niche on the wall of the Capella del Santo Chiodo. This chapel houses one of Venice's most-revered relics, a sacred nail used in the Crucifixion. Also 13th century, this statue of the Madonna and Child is alabaster with traces of decoration added a few centuries later. Wonderful crowns on them both! More about San Pantalon coming soon (it's a strange and fascinating church).

San Pantalon

These next two can both be admired in San Giacomo dall'Orio.

The first one is also 13th century, an image in Greek marble of the Virgin Orante. It's tucked away in a niche in the wall behind a large wooden cabinet where the church puts literature for the parishioners; it's easy to miss. I love her and also the bricks surrounding her.

You can't miss the second one though as she's right beside the entrance to the chancel and always has fresh flowers in front of her. She's 14th century, known as "Our Lady of the Annunciation."

San Giacomo dall'Orio

San Giacomo dall'Orio

September 20, 2013

PhotoHunt: Books

A weather-beaten saint holding a book in his right hand~


Santa Croce 1456

My guess is that this is St. James (San Giacomo) since he's holding a staff in his other hand and because he's over the small door adjacent to the entrance to the church of San Giacomo dall' Orio..

San Giacomo dall'Orio

Here is a winged lion of San Marco holding a book in his paws~

winged lion

Also in Venice, books galore at Libreria Acqua Alta. I love this bookstore!

I created a Gallery on Flickr with some great photos of this bookstore (and its resident cats) taken by visitors from all over the world. The cat in the tenth photo cracks me up. :)

Libreria Acqua Alta

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend. :)

See a list of upcoming Saturday Photo Hunting themes on Gattina's website here.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Churches in Venice in the Santa Croce category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

San Polo is the previous category.

The Islands is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


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